MARC GERSTEIN, UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND, NOV. 1976
In recent years, the range of possibilities for sculpture with regard to methods, materials, and situations has vastly increased. Christopher Sproat, one of the finer sculptors working today, has developed within this increased range to produce sculptures, which are compelling in their strength and rigor and touching in their quietude and lyricism. He employs materials, which are unusual within the general tradition of sculpture: light tubes, electrical wires, transformers, junction boxes, metal conduits, and other electrical hardware. The materials chosen are functional or practical in the electrical system of a building, but Sproat assembles them in ways quite different from those, which are typical and expected. His additive method has its roots in the tradition of modern constructed sculpture. Sproat, however, retains seemingly unaltered, the identity of the manufactured electrical parts. The pieces of hardware are chosen and juxtaposed for their physical properties of size, shape, weight, texture and color. The factualness of the materials, their appearance as unaltered and untouched electrical hardware, gives the sculpture a familiarity for the viewer. This familiarity becomes a means to render the abstractness of the works convincing and accessible.
Sproat’s materials have surfaces, which are clean and machine-produced. They are selected, in part, for their coolness and for their textures and colors. The textures of galvanized steel, enameled metal, coated wire, paint, and glass are subtly contrasted. Their colors: gray, white, silver, and black, are quietly related to one another in delicate shifts of value rather than in contrast of hue. The yellowish illumination of the incandescent light tubes ethereally harmonizes with the range of values. No one tone is permitted to stand out in dramatic contrast, to dominate the close-nit ensemble of values. The wall itself, to which the elements are attached, is painted black or gray. These large, simple, geometrical areas behind the sculptural elements act as foils for the shapes and masses of the three-dimensional parts. They tend to indicate the limits of lateral and vertical extension of a piece. They subtly reinforce the configurations and behind the elements into a more tightly integrated composition.
Sproat is sensitive to the situation of his pieces. Usually, he carefully considers the space in which a work is to be seen. In the generation of a piece, he works with an awareness of the kind of space in which it will be located. His works are made to relate to and activate a particular site; they are made to utilize and involve within themselves the walls and floor of the viewing location. The sculptures exploit the right- angled spaces ubiquitous to daily experience and are compositionally oriented toward perpendicularity. The drawing produced by the curves and angles of the tubes, rods, and wires gain its force or delicacy by its deviations from the dominant horizontals and verticals.
The sculptures are built out from the wall. They penetrate into the viewer’s space and extend onto the surface on which the viewer stands. The protruding parts of the sculpture delimit its physical boundaries and draw into it the space in front of the wall. Despite this outward expansion, each work is closed and self-contained, and remains strongly tied to the wall surface. The sculptures face and confront the viewer, withholding their interior spaces from the viewer’s physical access.
Sproat’s use of light, however, has an effect contrary to the self-containment of the physical elements of a piece. The light tubes themselves are elements in the organization of masses. Yet the light, which they produce, functions conversely to de-materialize the solidity, weight, and bulk of the sculpture and to expand the space, which it engages. The sole illumination of the gallery space comes from the sculptures themselves. The darkened space is inflected, molded, and energized by the light, which probes beyond the physical limits of the work. It envelops and bathes the viewer in its immaterial presence. It becomes the impalpable medium of continuity between the physically self-contained masses of the sculpture and the discrete identity of the viewer. Light becomes a quietly lyrical infusion, and atmospheric counterpoint to the rigorous interrelationship of the material forms.
The contrast of masses of light expresses the dialectic of Sproat’s sculptures between closed and open composition, containment and expansion, denseness and weightlessness, materiality and ethereality. The forms are machine-produced yet their juxtaposition and integration declare the humanizing imagination of the artist. Sproat’s work is concerned with sculptural problems, but is foremost a deeply affecting expression of feeling and poetry.